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Memphis at Temple: Five things to watch

The matchup at running back is especially intriguing, with both teams relying heavily on first-year players.

Temple’s Isaiah Wright (2) is a player to watch in Saturday's game against Memphis.
Temple’s Isaiah Wright (2) is a player to watch in Saturday's game against Memphis.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

The Temple Owls are well rested, having last played on Oct. 3 when they won, 27-17, at East Carolina. They’ll face a major challenge when they host No. 23 Memphis on Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game.

Memphis is the two-time AAC West Division champion. Temple is a contender in the AAC East. Could this be a preview of the AAC title game? It’s too early to look that far ahead, but this game could have a championship feel.

Here are five things to watch:

Matchup of the freshman running backs

Both teams have first-year running backs who can be difference makers. For Memphis, is it 5-foot-11, 191-pound redshirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell. He has rushed for 620 yards (8.2 avg.) and six touchdowns. In last week’s 52-33 win at Louisiana-Monroe, Gainwell rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries (14.9 avg.). He also has 17 receptions for 139 yards and a score.

Temple true freshman Re’Mahn Davis (5-9, 210) has rushed for 503 yards (6.0 avg.) and four touchdowns. Davis has caught only three passes, but they have gone for 90 yards. One thing to watch: Temple using him more as a receiver to get him out in space.

The quarterback battle

Temple coach Rod Carey said for the second week in a row, he will use two quarterbacks. Redshirt junior Anthony Russo will get the bulk of playing time, but redshirt sophomore Todd Centeio also will see time. In last week’s win at ECU, Centeio played one designated series in each half. He brings an extra running dimension. Russo is a strong-armed pocket passer.

Memphis is guided by redshirt junior Brady White, who has 37 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in his year-and-a-half as a starter. Like Russo, he has a strong arm and is effective in the pocket, but he can move when needed.

Isaiah Wright heating up

Temple has vowed to get the ball to senior receiver Isaiah Wright more, and it has paid off. He has 31 receptions (just two fewer than all of last year) for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

Where Wright is more dangerous is as a return man, but teams have mostly kicked away from him. He is averaging 8.6 yards on nine punt returns and 25.6 yards on nine kickoffs. Last week, however, he had a 14-yard punt return and a 55-yard kickoff return in addition to nine receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. He has five career returns for a TD and hasn’t scored on one this year, but could be ready to break out.

Centers of attention

While many people don’t look at a center matchup, this will be a game with two of the best not only in the AAC but also the country.

Temple redshirt junior Matt Hennessy (6-4, 295) will be making his 30th career start. Memphis senior Dustin Woodard (6-2, 291) will be making his 44th.

Woodard was a first-team all-AAC lineman last season. This is his first season starting at center, although he played the position twice before, but was mainly a left or right guard.

Both players are leaders of strong offensive lines.

Watch out for Bradley

Temple’s Shaun Bradley has a penchant for playing well in big games. In the Owls’ only game against a ranked opponent so far this year, a 20-17 win over then-No. 21 Maryland, Bradley had eight tackles, including three tackles for loss.

He is the engine that makes the defense go and will be the biggest key in slowing down a Memphis rushing game averaging 214.4 yards.

Memphis at Temple

Saturday, noon, Lincoln Financial Field

TV/radio: ESPN2/WPEN-FM (97.5)

Records: Memphis, 5-0, 1-0 American Athletic Conference; Temple, 4-1, 1-0.

Coaches: Memphis, Mike Norvell (31-14; overall, 85-25); Temple, Rod Carey (4-1; overall, 56-31).

Series: Tied, 2-2.